County to hear appeals on Jan. 11

New houses approved for Lincoln threaten historic Quaker village

By Laura Longley

On Jan. 11, theLoudoun County Board of Supervisors and the County’s Historic District Review Committee will each take up appeals on the County’s approval of two applications to build two new homes, both in the center of the historic Quaker village of Lincoln. They should expect two contentious hearings.

On one application, the Board of Supervisors will hear the appeal of 20 Lincoln residents challenging approvals of a new house by both the Department of Planning and Zoning and the Historic District Review Committee (HDRC).

Meanwhile, the Historic District Review Committee will face an appeal regarding a second house that has been approved by the Planning and Zoning staff. The residents hold that the application is incomplete and inaccurate, and should be referred back to Planning and Zoning.

Ultimately, the concern the community and conservationists are raising is: What is the future of this village?

As Phil Daley, a Lincoln resident for 40 years and president of its Lincoln Community League for 17, said in the HDRC meeting of Nov. 9, 2020, “A new home hasn’t been built in the village’s historic center in 50 years. Now we have two. We have only one chance to get this right. This is our last chance.”

Getting it right

To the neighbors, “getting it right”—doing right by the village’s history and sense of place—would require changes to both of the houses’ applications. They are located in the area of the village that served the Goose Creek agricultural community. It had two general stores, a post office, a forge, feed suppliers, the village hall, and others. Eventually, the County assigned these properties “Commercial” zoning,” a category the County would change to “Rural Commercial” (RC) in 1993 to clear up confusion from wording in the 1972 ordinances. 

Fewer than 10 parcels around the Lincoln post office still have that zoning. The two lots in question for construction of new houses are among them. They are situated within a few yards of the original post office, the postmaster’s pre-Civil War home, and the 1765 and 1817 meeting houses. 

The larger lot—2.17 acres—is adjacent to one of the general stores, now a home, on the west side of the village’s “main street,” Lincoln Road. The lot had been the site of a three-bedroom, one-bath clapboard-over-log house that was once the home and forge of the village blacksmith. There was a small, three-sided pole shed behind the house. All of it burned in a midwinter fire a few years ago, which is how the lot became available.

The house proposed for the lot next to the 1908 general store

A typical home in historic Lincoln
A typical home in Lincoln, on Lincoln Road

This parcel is owned by Adam and Megan Rafalski. It is located between a modest 1935 home and the 1908 general store. 

The house the applicants propose would have five bedrooms, four full baths, and 5,250 square feet of living space, which is more than double the size of the homes in the Historic District in Lincoln, covered porches not included. The septic permit application they submitted, which Planning and Zoning approved, is based on the existing three-bedroom, 450 gallons-per-day-flow system.

What is Rural Commercial zoning and why does it matter here?

Both properties are zoned “Rural Commercial.” According to the 1993 Loudoun County Zoning Ordinances, the “Rural Commercial” District “is established for the conversion of existing commercial properties zoned C-1 under the 1972 Zoning Ordinance which are located sporadically in rural Loudoun but deemed appropriate to be retained as a more preferred development pattern.”

The zoning ordinance “Purpose” statement continues: “The district is also established in other areas to allow for residential and commercial uses where existing settlement patterns provide a unique opportunity for a variety of permitted and special exception uses. Uses in the RC District shall be compatible with existing village and neighborhood scale and character and allow local, neighborhood related commercial uses to be developed.”

Applicant Adam Rafalski told the Historic District Review Committee, “We followed RC zoning. We hope you will make a decision that is actually within the guidelines. We do that not to skirt corners, but it would be impossible for us to design a house with someone else’s hope of where policy might go.” He added, “We want to improve upon the lot and the village.”

What are Historic District Guidelines and do they matter?

The built environment of each of Loudoun County’s six historic districts is to be governed by County-established guidelines that cover structural mass, size, siting, materials, setbacks, and spacing that align with established village patterns, and architectural styles faithful to the village’s historic period. It is the job of the HDRC to apply them.

In their Nov. 9, 2020, meeting with the HDRC for review of the applications, Adam Rafalski pointed out aspects of the proposed home that fit within the guidelines. He also noted that when you walk down Lincoln Road with its 13 small Victorian homes built between 1870 and 1900, you’ll find something unique about each house. Therefore, he asserted, the “uniqueness” of his “folk Victorian” will be “additive” to the village.

Responses to the application

Karl Riedel, chair of the Historic District Review Committee, found the Rafalskis’ plans and application lacking. In the HDRC meeting, he observed, “I think there’s insufficient information to review, think about, let the public see what it is you plan on using, and then respond to. So, with regards to coming to a conclusion tonight, it’s not my call but I’m thinking we’re early. There should be information provided, there should have been information provided in the application that is not yet in our hands.”

He added that from the application, he wasn’t sure of the materials being used. “The windows are an unknown. The columns on the front are an unknown. The doors at the back are not consistent with guidelines.” 

Also, the proposed house is set at a skewed angle to the road, which is not consistent with the rest of the homes in the village, which face the street with small front yards, and have a consistent setback that creates a rhythm along the street. 

Plans for a two-car garage attached by an ell to the main house occupied most of the lengthy discussion. The kind of stone for the exterior chimney and foundation came under discussion and led to one awkward exchange. In response to queries about stone, applicant Adam Rafalski suggested employment to board member Allen Cochran, a noted local stonemason, saying, “I’m working through the nature of the look . . .  Happy to speak with you further, too . . . “

Cochran immediately stopped it with, “Well I’m not sure that’s what we should be talking about.”

Another board member, Frances Fetzer, noted that she was a friend of the applicant and wondered aloud whether she should participate. Nonetheless, she joined the discussion and voted to approve the application. HDRC bylaws do not permit participation if the member has a personal or financial relationship with an applicant. 

Cochran recommended that the Rafalskis consider amending their application by removing the garage, and instead submit the garage separately in a year or two. Toward the end of the meeting, these views were expressed by other members: 

“Let them do whatever they want with the back of the house . . . I’m for you building it the way you want.”

“If you own the land, dammit, you oughta be able to do something with it if you want.”

The HDRC members unanimously approved the plans, without the garage for now, which means the Rafalskis will be issued a Certificate of Appropriateness (CAPP), so they can proceed with construction. 

What’s next

The 20 signatories to Lincoln’s appeal suggested this language for a motion to be made by a supervisor on Jan. 11:

“I move that the Board of Supervisors rescind the approval of Certificate of Appropriateness 2020-0012 as approved on the November 9, 2020 Historic District Review Committee meeting. It is requested the applicant revise the house’s design to maintain consistency with the architectural style, scale, properly placed elements, finishes, setback and massing to fit with the character of The Village of Lincoln as the guidelines intend to impact.” 

Disclosure: Laura Longley has lived in Loudoun County for 27 years, 14 of them in the Goose Creek Historic District. In that time, she has owned and renovated five historic properties in western Loudoun. She has worked with all Loudoun County departments that involve planning, zoning, environmental health, construction, and historic district guidelines.

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